Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 109:435 (Jul 52) p. 281
Christianity and History. By Herbert Butterfield, M.A. Charles Scribner’s, New York. 146 pp. $2.75.
In an era surfeited with humanists, social planners, and Utopians of all types it is refreshing to find a man whose outlook on life is simultaneously realistic and Christian. This unique combination is rather difficult to find, because too often Christians tend to be ultra-idealistic while realists generally end up on a pessimistic note. Professor Herbert Butterfield of the University of Cambridge history department, nevertheless, seems to be both a realist and a Christian of high caliber. Within his short and sane work, Christianity and History, accordingly the author promulgates a thesis somewhat peculiar in our skeptical modern age: surveying the 6, 000 years of recorded civilization he sagely concludes that the common denominator of all human history has been sinful, perverse mankind. Not that this opinion is so unusual or odd in itself, but rather the book becomes noteworthy for its thesis to be conclusively verified and reiterated by a competent historical mind.
Developing his case for the Christian view the professor keeps several things in mind, first among them that the study of history is not the exact science many believe it to be. History is more than charts and statistics; it is the study of a complex interplay of personality and drama. It is a “peculiar science in that it depends so much on things which can only be discovered and verified by insight, sympathy and imagination” (p. 17). Secondly, the author demonstrates a certain degree of inconclusiveness about history, “for there exists in most historical writing an appearance of definiteness and finality which is an optical illusion” (p. 15). Thirdly, he states that there are many things of which the veracity can never be scientifically ascertained and about which we can never be absolutely sure in an empirical sense. The historical character of Napoleon as well as of Christ are two examples. In this regard he warns us not to be ultraskeptical,
BSac 109:435 (Jul 52) p. 282
but rather he wants us to be open to the evidence of the written records.
As evidently a professing Christian, Butterfield again and again remarks an item which Marxists and Utopians blandly overlook—man is now, always has been, and ever will be sinful and errant. Historians must begin their study on that assumption. To be even more explicit, the author declares man not only sinful in deed but sinful in potential, since “the plain truth is that, if you were to remove certain subtle safeguards in society, many men who had been respectable in their lives would be transformed by the discovery of things which it was now possible to do with impuni...
Click here to subscribe